I was lying in bed feeling poorly for one reason or another; perhaps a cold, a hangover or a tender heart, I can’t remember; when I was introduced to Mark Kozelek. My housemate’s indie boyfriend had put on the Red House Painter’s song “Have You Forgotten (How to Love Your Self)” out in the lounge, and soon I felt greatly soothed by the voice seeping through to my room.
There could well be a name for the haunting and plaintive male-vocal genre. Modern exponents might include Bon Iver, José-González and Iron and Wine, but Mark Kozelek would be one of the most prolific. His early 90’s band, Red House Painters could certainly rock, but these days he mainly performs solo with a nylon-string acoustic guitar under the name Sun Kil Moon. Along the way he’s released some genius covers, including reworking early-era AC/DC into gorgeous finger-picking ballads.
I’m lucky to have seen most of my musical heroes live, but Mark had eluded me for a long time until I managed to tweak an overseas itinerary in 2012 to pass through London to see and hear him, bathed in the natural reverb of the Union Chapel. A down-beat, somewhat cranky man came on stage and mumbled his way through long melancholic songs. He was not hiding the fact he is in a middle-aged funk, lamenting he was looking out at pews lined mainly with men his age, rather than the sea of groupies of his earlier career.
His recent albums take confessional lyrics to a new level. Over thousands of words he documents in graphic detail the sex and death in his life, especially the death. Perhaps a few things save this from self-indulgent wallowing. Firstly, the raw honesty and vulnerability that comes through in his voice and lyrics. His emo-ness is not a performance, and he means every word he says. Secondly, the small glimpses of beauty and her sister hope, that come through in his musicianship, his wry humour, and amongst the words he spews out.
“And in the midst of all the awkwardness, all my growing pains
Somehow the wonder of life always remained”
Mark Kozelek is definitely not everyone’s taste, but tomorrow he is finally coming to my home town, and I have a ticket.
Update: I didn’t enjoy the gig and felt sorry for his bandmates who have to put up with him.